“I thought you said you never wanted to see me again?” demands a voice from somewhere behind John. He doesn’t turn, doesn’t move from the barstool, just keeps staring at the empty glass front of him, dragging his fingers idly through spilt liquid on the bar. There’s a long pause before he speaks; when he does, his voice is rough, as though it has not been used for weeks.
“It’s hard,” he murmurs, “trying to go back to my old life. Harder than I thought.” There’s a sigh from behind him, and a body moves forward to sit on the stool at his side. Lestrade’s weary eyes and permanent frown match John’s precisely.
“John, mate. I understand,” Lestrade assures him, raising a hand at the bartender, “But it’s only been, what, a month?” John gives a minute shake of his head, his lips tight.
“More. Thirty-eight days.” Lestrade regards him steadily, and then turns to the bartender. Forget beer. John is past beer. So is he, in all likelihood.
“Two whiskies, on the rocks.” He takes the empty glass from John’s unresisting hands, pushes it to the side to make way for a full one. “This isn’t going to happen overnight, John. You’ve lost a friend. A good friend. And you lost him in more ways than one.” Lestrade parrots the words people have thrown at him. He is otherwise at a loss at what to say to the broken man who sits beside him. John’s head snaps up, and for the first time since Lestrade has arrived, John is looking him in the eye.
“Don’t. Don’t you dare!” John’s almost snarling, and Lestrade has to restrain himself from physically inching away from the look in John’s eyes. Angry. Almost feral. “Don’t tell me you believe a word of what they’re saying about him. You know as well as I do that Sherlock died a good man.” His head drops again, and Lestrade almost doesn’t hear what he whispers next, seemingly to himself – “even if he didn’t want to be one.” John practically snatches his drink from the bartender’s hand, taking a mouthful immediately and slamming the glass back on the table. He’s shaking. Lestrade can feel the eyes of the other patrons of the bar on them, and silently wills John not to do anything stupid. He came here to help John, and he feels that arresting him would not be conducive to that goal.
“Okay. Fine. Let’s say he was exactly who we believed him to be,” Lestrade amends wearily, with no particular conviction, “It doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone. I’m sorry John, but that’s something you’ve got to accept – and you will, in time.”
There’s another pause, longer this time. Lestrade picks up his glass, and both drink in silence for a while. Lestrade signals for another round. He feels like a hypocrite. People have been saying exactly the same things to him, and God know he hasn’t been listening.
After a few minutes, John sighs. “I thought I saw him once, you know,” he admits. It feels likes someone’s poured ice down Lestrade’s spine and frozen his limbs in place. He squeezes his eyes shut tightly and shakes his head as though trying to chase away the chill. John doesn’t seem to notice. “He was just standing across the street, staring at me. I opened my mouth to call his name, but a bus went past and then – then he was gone.”
Lestrade has to fight back the urge to say that the same thing has happened to him - but he’s accepted that it was the grief, just a figment of his imagination, that’s all, and he’s not going to let the fact that John has seen him too mean anything, it was just the grief, it was just because –
“No,” he manages to force out. “No you didn’t. You just wanted to see him, John.”
John scoffs and turns to face him again, face drawn and eyes dark. “I’m not crazy, Greg,” he says in a low voice, “I know what it’s like to see Sherlock everywhere I look. A man in one of those stupid deerstalkers. Someone tall in a dark coat. Blue eyes in a pale face. But this? This was him.” John seems to take Lestrade’s deep, shaky breaths as an accusation, because he raises his voice again. “I’m not crazy! This is not me going bonkers, this is not grief talking, and it is certainly not just a visual manifestation of my strong desire to see my best friend again!”
This last exclamation makes it clear that John has most definitely revisited his therapist. Not surprising, really. Lestrade has, too. But he has accepted that Sherlock is gone, and he is refusing to give himself any more empty hope. He has accepted it. He has. At least, that’s what he’s been telling himself. He stands, pushing his empty glass away from him and shrugging on his jacket, unable to sit here and lie to a man he considers a friend. He’s painfully aware that if they keep talking about Sherlock like this, he’s the one who’s likely to do something stupid.
John watches incredulously. “You’re not going?” He asks, suddenly sounding so desperate that Lestrade nearly sits down again in that instant. “I – please, Greg. Please, I need –” He breaks off, apparently unsure of what it was that he needs.
Lestrade shakes his head. “It’s not just you, John. You’re not the only one that Sherlock left behind. He was my friend too.” And there’s a slight hesitation before the word ‘friend’. Lestrade hopes that John will put it down to him being unsure if the dysfunctional professional partnership they had shared counted as friendship, hopes he will not think back and question if it is something more than that. “I’m sorry, John,” the Detective Inspector sighs. “But whatever you need, you won’t get it from me. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your sister. Talk to somebody. But for God’s sake, don’t try and convince yourself that he’s alive. Down that path, madness lies.” He puts a hand on John’s shoulder and lets it rest there for a moment, comfortingly. “You’ll survive, John,” he promises, looking the doctor straight in the eye, “I know you will. You’ve done it before.”
He leaves. There’s probably enough whisky in him to allow him to cry, but he’s unable to do so. He doesn’t feel sadness, or anger, or grief. There’s nothing there – just the faint echoes of a mild panic whenever he thinks too long on the world without Sherlock. He takes a deep breath of the cool night air before dialling for a cab. If he’s honest, he’s surprised he can act like he’s getting over it. He’s surprised he hasn’t been struck down by God’s wrath for lying - because it’s all lies: every word he says, every minute he pretends to be living his life, pretends to be moving on. In reality, he’s simply floating, suspended. He just keeps thinking that maybe if he tries hard enough, eventually he’ll believe the lies himself.
The next time, it is Lestrade who seeks out John.
He stands outside 221B Baker Street, staring up at the door, gathering the courage to move closer, to ring the bell, to go inside. It is the first time he has been back since… since it happened. He still can’t vocalise it, even in his mind, although it’s been something like three months. John will know precisely, but for Lestrade each day is merging into the next and as more time goes on he seems to feel less and less; the world simply passes him by in a blur of blue and red flashing lights and paperwork. He doesn’t know if he appears any different from the outside. Hasn’t really spoken to anyone in a non-professional context since last time he saw John.
Eventually, he steps closer and rings the bell once; the sound – sharp and shrill – echoes through his head. It’s a long while before anything happens, but he is still waiting patiently on the step when John’s voice emerges from the intercom, heavy and slow.
“Who is it?” John doesn’t sound interested in who it is. He doesn’t sound… anything. His voice is a flat monotone, revealing no trace of emotion. Lestrade guesses he, too, is numb and unfeeling. Can’t find the energy to care about anything. Sherlock’s death has stripped them of everything.
“It’s Greg,” he replies, “Just came to chat. If you’d like.” There is a pause, then the intercom buzzes and Lestrade can enter the flat. The first thing that strikes him is the smell. It smells different – of freshly baked cake, pot pourri and fresh flowers, instead of Chinese food, gone-wrong experiments and gun smoke. He imagines it is Mrs Hudson’s influence. He mounts the stairs in growing trepidation, wondering if the flat will be different – clean and tidy and clinical, all traces of Sherlock locked away somewhere hidden. Or perhaps it will be exactly the same, untouched. He is not sure which would be worse.
John is waiting for him at the top of the stairs, leaning heavily against the door frame. Lestrade notices a cane clutched in his hand, the very same one he’d had when they’d first met. They stare at each other for a second, noting the dark circles, the pale skin, the haggard faces, the blank eyes, and nod slightly as if in recognition of a fellow sufferer. John enters the flat, and Lestrade follows behind him, head down; when he looks up, it is almost too much. Nothing has changed, not a thing is out of place – the skull, sitting on the mantelpiece, the titration equipment on the kitchen table, even the Sudoku puzzle from the newspaper, finished in mere minutes and abandoned on the floor. He finds he can’t breathe, something is pushing down on his chest, a sharp pain piercing his lungs. The ever-present echoes of mild panic are getting louder, reverberating through him. His heart is drumming faster and harder than it ever has before, his skin is burning, the edges of his vision are darkening, and he’s dying, he’s sure he’s dying, he’s never been more sure even when he’s had a gun levelled at his face –
– but John is a doctor and he knows Lestrade isn’t dying. He stands in front of him and tells him in a firm, reassuring voice that it’s okay, that they’re going to leave now, and he gently helps Lestrade towards the door. When they’re out, he stands in front of him and continues to reassure him, shows him how to breathe, keeps talking in that steady, calming voice…
Lestrade opens his eyes and he’s on the floor, sitting with his back against the wall with John next to him. He takes a deep, shaky breath and lets it out slowly. His heart is still racing but he no longer feels like the world is crushing down on him. When he speaks, his voice seems deceptively firm to his own ears, and he wonders if it sounds the same to John, or if his panic and fear are still evident.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “Sorry. Sorry.” He can’t think of anything else to say.
John shakes his head, a slight smile on his face. “Been there,” he admits, “done that. Mrs Hudson thought I was having a heart attack.”
Lestrade manages a wry smile, then looks towards the door. “Let’s go in.” John shakes his head and lays a gentle, restraining hand on his arm, a hint of concern in his eyes for a moment, displacing that emptiness that has occupied them recently.
“Probably not a good idea. You’re still shaken, and being back in there might well set you off again –”
Lestrade stands, interrupting him. “I know you’re a doctor, but for now just – just be my friend, yeah?” He meant to phrase it as a statement and he’s embarrassed that it came out as a question, almost pleading. “I need it,” he continues, “I need to get my head around it.” He thinks he can feel silent accusation radiating from John – you were the one who told me to get over it, to stop giving myself false hope, so why have you been pretending all this time? – but after a moment he just nods and stands. Lestrade takes a deep breath before stepping over the threshold, and this time he forces himself to look around. He does not realise he’s stopped walking and is simply standing, lost, helpless, until John’s hand squeezes his shoulder comfortingly.
“I know I should start clearing up,” admits John, “but every time I try, I just get overwhelmed.” Lestrade nods, silently, and forces himself to take another step. He sees the door to Sherlock’s room, shut tight.
“Have you -?” he begins, nodding at the door. John shakes his head, the ghost of a smile on his lips.
“He was always picky about me going near his room,” he says. “I can’t help but feel it would be a sort of – invasion of his privacy. Despite the fact that –” He breaks off. He can’t voice it either, can’t make himself say it out loud because then it all seems real. Not just like some bad dream. Lestrade settles gingerly on the sofa, as if afraid it will vanish from beneath him. John takes the armchair – the armchair that he’d claimed as his own mere hours after arriving at Baker Street for the first time – and seems familiar, comfortable with it. Lestrade guesses it’s where he spends a good deal of his time.
“I saw him too.” The words are out of his mouth before they’ve even registered in his brain, and he’s surprised to hear them. He hasn’t realised up until now how guilty he feels for hiding that from John, not until the weight has lifted off his chest - only to be replaced with a heavier one as John stares at him in angry disbelief. “I thought I’d gone mad,” he explains quickly, overly aware that he’s just making excuses for lying to his friend, for inadvertently making John think he was losing his sanity. “I didn’t want to admit it because I was… I was scared.” The last three words come out in a whisper, and John’s face softens slightly. He’s never seen Lestrade scared, not really – he’s seen him unhappy, and anxious, and worried, and maybe even nervous, but never actually scared. Now, with the guilt and the fear plastered over his face his looks younger, more vulnerable, and John deflates. He seems to realise that Lestrade is not here to comfort him, this time. He is here to be comforted.
“I know,” John assures him, nodding. “I know. I’m still not sure I haven’t gone mad. That I’m having some kind of mild psychotic break brought on by grief. But I’m sure it was him.”
“Me too. You could build a house on those cheekbones. I’d recognise them anywhere.” They laugh together, but cease abruptly. It sounds unnatural in this space. Wrong. The silence extends on for too long, and Lestrade blurts something out just to break it. “He was different after you came.” The words sound like an accusation in Lestrade’s ears, and he knows he can’t take up this fight. Not now. He’s not here to address the fact that John was more important to Sherlock than he was. He’s here to remember before he tries to forget, for some kind of closure. “In a good way,” he adds.
“Oh.” John’s response is unemotional, and Lestrade assumes it’s because he’s heard it before. Another silence stretches out before them, and Lestrade wonders why it’s so damn hard to talk about someone who meant so much to him, and who still occupies his thoughts near constantly.
“Tell me.” John’s voice breaks into Lestrade’s thoughts, pulling him back to the conversation.
“Tell you what?” he inquires, rubbing his neck wearily, thinking idly about a beer, a hot shower and his bed.
“About Sherlock. Sherlock before I came.”
Lestrade stares at his friend, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but here. He could have chosen anyone to talk to – a therapist, the grief counsellor that the Met keeps on the payroll, some bloke in the pub – but he chose John, and he’s beginning to wish he hadn’t. Once he starts he knows that it will all come out, everything, and he’s not sure he wants John to know, or how he might react… “Please.” The word disarms him – because no matter who Sherlock was or is to him, John Watson is here and he’s a friend. He leans forward in the chair, elbows on his knees and takes a steadying breath, knowing that here, now, is where everything changes.
“He had a drug problem when I met him,” he confesses, eyes not on John but fixed firmly on the floor. “And I don’t mean he was an occasional user. Most of the time he didn’t know up from down but he’d turn up at crime scenes regardless, talking a hundred miles an hour about things that none of us understood. I was just a uniform back then – crowd control, patrols and the occasional crime scene gig if no one else was nearby. And he became a regular feature – the crazy, angry bloke who’d spout wild theories about who did what, when and how. I started noticing that, despite his long-winded and more-than-slightly crazed ravings, he was right about a lot of things – too much to be coincidence.” Lestrade picks nervously at his nails, a habit he’s had a lifetime to break, but has never quite managed.
“I essentially became his babysitter; I kept him behind the crime scene tape, made sure he didn’t touch the evidence or harass the guys collecting the evidence, that sort of thing. But one day when it was cold, and raining, and dark and altogether miserable and everyone had buggered off, leaving me to stand slightly pointlessly in front of a taped off door, he turned up again. I’ve never seen him look worse – he was shaking and pale, soaking wet from the rain, probably going cold turkey. In a moment of insane, stupid, and slightly illegal madness, I let him in out of the rain – into the crime scene. I have no idea what I was thinking. I could so easily have lost my job over that. He stumbled round, glanced at everything and collapsed on a sofa. He was feverish, but still he looked right at me, told me what had happened, who was responsible and why, and only then passed out.”
He stops, staring straight through John, remembering. “He looked so vulnerable, lying there on the sofa, and I just couldn’t believe that there was no one to help him. And for some reason – that I would very much come to regret later – I decided that I would do it. I’d help him get clean and maybe get a job in the force.” He looks up at John, and sees concern on his face. He decides it’s concern for Sherlock, for this tale about the broken man that his best friend once was, rather than concern for him. He doesn’t mind, though. In fact, he thinks it’s nice. After all they’ve been through, after all the feelings of betrayal that John must be feeling somewhere, deep down, despite all the doubts that must have haunted them as they have Lestrade, he still cares for Sherlock. Still believes in him.
“Well, long story short, his deductions on that case got me a promotion, and I set about trying to help him. Wasn’t easy, of course – he never made anything easy. There were arguments and there was violence, there were emotions that I’ve never seen him express since. But eventually, eventually, there he was, the man you know – knew. I couldn’t get him a job on the force – obviously – but he sort of gradually evolved into this ‘consulting detective’, and we kept each other afloat, really…” he trails off, embarrassed at the hasty ending he has supplied, worried that John will notice there’s huge chunk of information that he’s kept to himself. He can’t make eye contact.
“You did a lot for him,” John comments, softly. Lestrade still doesn’t look up.
“No,” he replies, in a measured, considering tone. “I think we did a lot for each other.” Did that sound as suspicious as he thinks it did? He hopes not. He came here wanting to talk to John, to tell him things he’s never told anyone else, but it turns out he’s not ready. He can’t bring himself to voice any of it.
Unfortunately for him, John is by no means stupid and now he’s leaning forwards in his chair, an intent look on his face. “Greg, what did you come here to tell me? What is it you’re trying to say?”
There’s a long silence, fraught with tension and perhaps a little bit of the fear that is pouring off of Lestrade. It seems to stretch on forever, and Lestrade can only think of one way of stopping it. “We came to rely on each other,” he blurts out, his mouth moving before he has a chance to stop it, “in more ways than one.”
Another silence. This one seems heavy to Lestrade. Worse than the one that came before it. Then John chuckles slightly and sits back, shaking his head. “Blimey. That’s one thing I wasn’t expecting to hear.”
Lestrade straightens his back, suddenly defensive.
“Well, obviously it was just transference – he was giving up the drugs and that’s a lot of emotions and obviously he just…” He trails off, excuses and defences left hanging. John is staring at him incredulously and suddenly Lestrade feels trapped. “I should go.” He stands quickly and he’s halfway to the door before John catches up with him, physically restrains him from leaving with a hand on his shoulder.
“Please, Greg, don’t. I just – I just can’t imagine it. Sherlock, I mean. Being that open towards another person.”
Lestrade’s head drops and he laughs, hollowly. “Don’t kid yourself. He was never open. It was the single most difficult relationship I’ve ever been in. If you could even call it a relationship. We argued, we shouted, I called him arrogant, he called me stupid. When the tension got too high, we’d have sex. No, no. That’s not right. We would fuck, just anger and emotion and nails and teeth. I couldn’t keep going like that. No one could. I kicked him out just before he met you.” He turns to face John, and an emotional dam has opened, and he wants so much to pull on the reigns, to stop this sudden rush of words, but he’s helpless against the tide. “And then you turned up, and suddenly everything was different. He got more and more human every day, and he was never going to be normal but I could look at him and imagine a life together that didn’t make me sick with exhaustion, but the time for that had passed. Because now he only looked at you –” Here John looks indignant, tries to interrupt, but Lestrade doesn’t let him “– whether you like it or not, it’s true. Maybe he looked at you as a friend, maybe more, I don’t know. But the truth of the matter is that I got more jealous every day and –”
Belatedly, he catches hold of the reigns and pulls back, sharply. He takes a deep breath and a step back from John, and when he speaks again it’s in a much more measured tone. “And the last thing I did before he died was accuse him of being a fake. There was too much – tangled up in there for me, and now? I’ve never felt guiltier in my life, John. I can’t sleep, I can’t work, I can’t do anything without thinking about what I’ve lost and what I’ve done.”
This silence is the heaviest yet, almost viscous in its intensity. “I loved him.” It’s the first time he’s ever admitted that – out loud or even to himself. And it’s true, he had thought himself in love with Sherlock, once. The fact that the love has long since faded into a protective streak and mild irritation does not ease the pain. As he says it, something rushes through him, and he’s crying. Not a quiet, dignified tears either; he’s sobbing and his eyes and throat are burning and he can’t tell whether he’s standing up or he’s fallen to the floor. It’s cathartic somehow, and every second that passes he feels a little bit lighter; he feels less numb.
When his head eventually clears it feels like hours have passed, but he can’t tell. He’s sitting on the sofa, head in hands, and he’s enveloped by silence. He feels entirely different than he did this morning, though whether better or worse he can’t decide. He looks around the room through tired eyes, and sees John, slumped in an armchair angled towards the window, apparently deep in thought. He has no idea what to do now. Should he leave quietly, and pretend none of this ever happened? Should he try and talk to John? He feels lost, floating in an endless, calm sea with nothing to reach towards. He straightens up and runs a hand through his hair. John, alerted by the movement, turns his head to look, and for a while they simply stare at each other.
“I should probably go.” Lestrade’s voice is rough, raw and painful. He clears his throat. John doesn’t speak, only nods slightly, so Lestrade stands, grabs his coat from where it’s lying over the arm of the sofa and hurries to the door. He pauses just before he exits. “I’m sorry, John.” He can’t make eye contact with John, not now. Not since he told John everything, since he revealed he’d been so jealous of him – he feels like an adolescent. He’s ashamed for ever having said anything.
“Don’t be.” John’s voice is weary, and Lestrade feels a pool of guilt rise up in his stomach. He feels lighter but John feels heavier, almost as though their sorrow is a balancing act. None of the grief has gone. The balance has simply shifted.
He could stay. He could listen to John, he could take back some of that weight, restore the balance that existed before. Instead, he turns and leaves. Lestrade has never felt like a coward before.
The third time they meet by accident.
Lestrade has had a long day – far too long. He’d walked into his office to find the Superintendent waiting for him, with his slicked back hair and trousers creased so sharply Lestrade was afraid he’d cut himself if he got too close. The man was polite, careful to the extreme, used phrases like ‘concern for your wellbeing’, and ‘notable difference in work attitude’, and reassured him that his superiors, ‘while not displeased with his performance, were acting in his best interests’ finishing every condescending sentence with, ‘you understand, I’m sure’. So this was him, who had never taken a sick day in his life and never given anyone cause for complaint on a ‘non-voluntary leave of absence’ pending further assessment. After completing nearly a whole day’s worth of work, of course. Bastards.
It’s not until he’s inside the pub nursing a pint that he notices John sat across the room on an armchair in the corner doing much the same. He wonders if it’s too late to leave, just leave the pint and run to another pub to deal with his stress, alone - but then he remembers walking away the last time, remember what being cowardly feels like and decides he can’t stand it a second time. So, against his better judgement, he stands up and wanders over to John, pint in hand.
How should he talk to John, he wonders, now that he knows? Same as always, he supposes. Pretend like nothing’s changed.c“Alright, mate?” He smiles at John and gestures at the empty seat, and after only a moment’s hesitation, John nods. Lestrade sits, pulls a tattered beermat towards him and places his glass carefully on it, concentrating on making sure it sits dead centre rather than looking up at John. “How’re you doing?” he asks eventually, unable to think of anything else to say. John nods slightly.
“Not too bad, I suppose.” They both know he’s lying. “Mrs Hudson insisted I leave the house, get some fresh air.”
Lestrade smiles slightly. “Not sure she meant the pub,” he teases, and John smiles in return, shrugs a shoulder.
“Well, what about you? It’s a little early for you to be off from work, isn’t it?” Lestrade’s smile immediately vanishes, and he lets out a harsh sigh.
“They’ve put me on leave of absence,” he admits bitterly. “They say they’re ‘concerned for my wellbeing’ or some bullshit.” John makes a sympathetic noise and they both take a drink. “I haven’t let it affect my performance,” he finds himself saying. “I am every bit the copper I used to be. I work just as hard, if not harder. My work is – well, it’s more than important to me. It’s the only thing I’ve got left.” He’s sharing more than he meant to again, an increasingly common phenomenon around John Watson lately. He wonders idly whether the man has some sort of superpower.
“They have a point, you know,” John points out. “At this rate, you’ll just keep working until you run yourself into the ground. You need some time to breathe. To grieve properly. Move on.” Lestrade raises an eyebrow, leaning back into the chair.
“You sound like a therapist,” he comments gruffly, oddly touched that John appears to be concerned about his wellbeing. John lets out a breath of air that might be a laugh.
“I’ve spent enough time around them lately. Hardly surprising.” They both chuckle. It still feels unnatural to be laughing, but perhaps a little less so than before. They both drink again; somewhere in the pub someone is strumming a guitar, singing in a low, gravelly voice.
“I don’t really know how to grieve,” admits Lestrade. He is picking at his fingernails again but forces himself to stop, takes another pull from his glass just have something to do with his hands. “I thought maybe if I just worked hard enough, it would pass.” These are things he hasn’t admitted to anyone else; but given what John already knows about him, he figures a few more secrets won’t hurt. John stares for a few seconds in a disconcertingly calculating manner, his fingers tapping out a steady rhythm on his half-empty glass. Then, suddenly, he’s standing, grabbing his coat with one hand and Lestrade’s arm with the other, pulling him away from the table. It’s all Lestrade can do to not spill his drink as he allows himself to be dragged away.
“Woah, where are we going?” Lestrade demands as they near the door, but John doesn’t stop moving. Lestrade looks longingly back at his unfinished pint as they exit.
“To grieve,” he throws over his shoulder as they hurry across the road, his hand only releasing Lestrade’s arm when they reach the other side safely. Lestrade realises they’re heading for Baker Street; it’s only a fifteen minute walk and he knows John never held with Sherlock’s expensive habit of cab rides over stupidly short distances. The night is unseasonably warm, and as they walk Lestrade tries to ask John what they’re going to do, but the doctor sticks only to the most mundane topics of conversation – football and the weather and the economic crisis.
When they reach the flat, Lestrade’s inexplicably nervous. He’s not sure he can handle going back in again, not while the flat looks like Sherlock might have left it five minutes ago, and might come back any second – but John looks back at Lestrade over the shoulder as he mounts the stairs, and Lestrade knows that he can’t run away again. He takes a breath and continues on without further hesitation. By the time he’s forced himself up the stairs and through the now-open door, John is reappearing from his bedroom with folded cardboard boxes under his arms, which he sets on the floor and immediately starts struggling with, coaxing them into shape. For a few seconds Lestrade is none the wiser, and then comprehension dawns.
“No, John – I can’t. We can’t. It’s all so…” He can’t make the words come, can’t express out loud what he feels – he can’t go through Sherlock’s personal things and decide what’s important, what to keep and what to throw away, can’t make Sherlock into boxes of neatly sorted, clinical memories. But John seems to understand, and why wouldn’t he? He’s the one who’s been sitting in his armchair all these months, with cardboard boxes at the ready but everything still in its place. He’s the one who must have been battling this every second of every minute of every day. He glances up at Lestrade from his position on the floor, as yet another cardboard box taking shaps under his hands. There’s steel in his eyes.
“Yes, we can. We have to. We’ll start small. But you know, and I know, that what we’re doing isn’t healthy. Trying to keep him here. Trying to pretend it didn’t happen.” He rummages for a marker pen in a drawer, and carefully writes labels on two of the boxes – “to keep” and “to donate”. He disappears into the kitchen, emerges again with a single black bin bag. That hurts the most; the thought of taking what’s left of Sherlock and hiding him away in cardboard boxes is bad enough, but the thought of packaging up any of his belongings in black plastic and simply discarding them is almost unbearable. Lestrade shuts his eyes, takes a deep, steadying breath. He cannot bear the thought of someone else owning something that once belonged to Sherlock. What a painfully boring existence it would be, to go from Sherlock’s frenzied, whirling, chaotic world to a mundane life with an ordinary person. Dull. Like his life, now. But now John’s standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders, and Lestrade is forced to look his friend in the eye.
“I know it’s hard, Greg,” John assures him softly, “Probably harder for you than me, considering -” he doesn’t voice the last part of the sentence, but the words are clearly discernible. Considering you were in love with him, once. “But it’s something we have to do. It will hurt, but it will help as well.” And, God damn it, Lestrade knows the man is right. If he thinks of it as a duty – as his duty - he has no choice. He has never been a man to shirk his duty, and he’s not going to start now.
They survey the room together, unsure where to start. Surprisingly, it is Lestrade who makes the decision, moving towards the mantelpiece and picking up the skull. He holds it almost reverently, turning it in his hands. It is cold and smooth, heavier than he expected, as though weighed down with all the knowledge imparted to it by Sherlock. Lestrade wonders who the skull belonged to in life; he hopes it wasn’t anyone Sherlock knew personally, because that’s just downright creepy. He takes a deliberate step towards the boxes, looks to John for reassurance and receives a nod in return. Slowly, carefully, he places the skull in the box labelled ‘to keep’.
As soon as it is free of his hands, a rush of breath escapes them both; breaths they had not realised they had been holding. They have started taking Sherlock out of Baker Street, nearly six months after his death. The world has not ended, the universe has not collapsed. Life is still going. John moves towards the mantelpiece as well, struggles for a brief moment to pry the knife out of the wood. When it comes free, the papers pinned underneath it fountain up into the air, scatter across the floor and Lestrade hurriedly collects them. They’re apparently unrelated; scraps of paper with words scrawled across them, newspaper clippings, receipts and unopened letters. He reads each one intently regardless, scouring for some sort of meaning where there is none, scared of throwing out something important. He sets the letters aside for John; the rest seems useless. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot find a reason to keep them, yet he cannot bring himself to throw them away. He stands by the bin bag, staring at the pile, until he eventually tips it in with an odd gesture, as though flicking an insect away. Behind him, John is picking up other things and placing them in boxes, regarding each steadily before deciding what to with it. Lestrade watches him intently. Perhaps he should be relieved, or sad, or at least feel a lingering grief. But he doesn’t. He simply knows that this is something that must be done.
They work mostly in silence, each trusting the other to do the right thing with Sherlock’s belongings. Sometimes, when unsure or, more often, when the silence gets too much, they ask each other. Many things go in the box marked ‘to keep’, so many that several more boxes are dragged over. The ‘to donate’ box remains half empty, filled with forlorn and mismatched items – spectacle frames with no glass, an old dictionary, a slightly chipped mug emblazoned with a faded image of Brighton pier. All things that bear no relation to Sherlock, that hold no memories – for them, at least. In reality they’re not getting rid of anything, they’re simply putting it out of sight. Lestrade does not fail to spot the painfully accurate metaphor for his grief.
After several hours, when Lestrade’s back begins to ache from bending over to pick things up, and his eyes sting from staring so intently at Sherlock’s belongings – some familiar, evoking long-forgotten memories, others strangers to him entirely – Lestrade collapses onto the sofa, exhausted. After only a few seconds, John joins him and they survey their work. The flat is so crowded with stuff that they’ve barely made a dent in it; only a small area on and around the fireplace looks any different whatsoever. Nevertheless, the flat seems emptier, plainer. Devoid of the character that defines it in Lestrade’s mind. Lestrade feels raw, horribly over-sensitised by hours’ worth of memories, but at the same time he feels scrubbed clean. He feels as though he’s taken a step. He hopes that John feels the same.
“Tea?” offers John, after a brief period of respite on the sofa. Lestrade nods gratefully.
“Please.” He stands to follow John into the kitchen, knees protesting slightly. He reaches towards the ceiling, attempts to stretch out his back and almost moans out loud at the pleasurable sensation. He thinks he’s managed to keep it in, but he’s made a noise of some kind because John has popped his head round from the kitchen looking slightly concerned.
“Alright there?” Lestrade feels his cheeks colour slightly, though he’s unsure why.
“Yeah, just trying to stretch out the kinks and feel less like the old man I am,” he jokes, and John laughs a little throaty laugh, returning to making the tea. Lestrade wanders through into the kitchen, carefully avoiding touching the remains of any of Sherlock’s experiments; he’s still got faint scars from the first time he made that mistake. He considers borrowing a hazmat suit to deal with the test tubes and titration equipment, but puts the thought aside to be addressed when it’s more relevant. When John passes him his tea it’s a mug of pure liquid heaven – sweet and milky, just the way he likes it. He’s surprised John knows, but doesn’t comment. They lean against counters, both clutching their warm mugs like lifelines, in quiet contemplation.
As the evening wears on, Lestrade find himself more relaxed. He can’t forget the things that he’s told John, but they don’t seem as important to him as they did yesterday. John knows that he and Sherlock were lovers. John isn’t treating him any differently. John doesn’t care. They finish their tea and share their favourite memories of Sherlock, his most impressive moments and his occasional hilarious blunder, inevitably in some sort of social setting. As the night wears on they talk of other things entirely – of John’s time in the army and Lestrade’s early days on the force. They learn more about each other than they ever have before, and in the end it is midnight before Lestrade leaves.
“Come back tomorrow,” suggests John. “Seeing as you won’t be at work. We can maybe do some more here.” Lestrade agrees easily, finding he no longer has to view coming to Baker Street as a duty he cannot avoid. These long hours spent with John in Sherlock’s space have changed things. Have changed him.
“We should have dinner too. I mean a real dinner. I’ll cook. Don’t know about you, but I’ve been eating a lot of takeaway over the last few months.” John laughs and agrees, and they part ways; John returns to the flat, Lestrade descends the stairs and steps out into the cool night air. He realises he is smiling, and stops himself, uneasy about walking out of a dead friend’s flat with a grin plastered on his face. But for the first time in many months, Lestrade feels even a little like his old self again. The world is slowing down and coming into focus, and his numbness is receding. The blankness that has characterised his world is melting away, like pale snow that thaws to reveals the strong green hues of the grass that has long been buried underneath. There’s a hint grief, and sadness, and pain, but they are tempered by the cool trickle of friendship, and laughter, and contentment. He walks home, and sleeps soundly.
After this, they meet often, each seeking out the other.
Six months later, Lestrade lets himself into the flat with the key John has entrusted him with. It makes sense for him to have one, seeing as he now spends such a large proportion of his time there. He whistles a cheerful tune as he enters the flat, a completely different place than it had been half a year ago; the place is tidy, ordered, and while a few mementos of Sherlock are still scattered around – his violin, on a stand in the corner, the skull which John had fished out of a box a week after it had been put there, claiming the flat just didn’t seem right without it, some of his books in the bookcase – the place is now irrevocably John’s and John’s alone. There are piles of medical journals on the desk, and houseplants that survive more than a week, and nothing more menacing than Mrs Hudson’s home-made trifle in the fridge. The only place that remains untouched is Sherlock’s bedroom; neither of them has yet found the courage to suggest they even open the door.
“John!” Lestrade calls as he shrugs off his coat, “John? Where are you mate?” A muffled voice floats down from John’s bedroom, and Lestrade hears the door opening and feet on the stairs. When he appears, John looks the same as always; a worn, knitted jumper with elbow patches and corduroys, cane and mismatched socks on his feet.
“You look happy,” he comments as he sees Lestrade, a wide grin plastered across his face and bouncing on his heels.
Lestrade nods, and moves towards the sofa. “Yup. I went in for my assessment this morning, and I’m back at work next week.”
John’s face breaks into a smile that rivals Lestrade’s own, and he claps Lestrade on the shoulder as he passes towards the kitchen. “Well done! You can finally get back to bossing people around.”
Lestrade laughs – not the timid, unsure laugh of six months ago, but a committed, genuine sound of joy. “That I can. Hope Anderson still remembers who I am.” They share tea, as is their ritual, and risk a piece of Mrs Hudson’s trifle. Lestrade glances at his watch when he’s emptied his mug. “Must dash, I’ve got things to do – just thought I’d let you know the good news.” He stands, and John stands with him, using his cane as support.
“You know it’s tomorrow?” he asks, quietly.
Lestrade stills, and though the smile doesn’t fade from his face, it becomes more sad.“Yeah,” he confirms, “Yeah, I know. A year. A year since Sherlock left us.” He still doesn’t like using the word ‘died’. It’s too final. Too blunt.
“I thought I might go and visit the graveyard,” says John, and Lestrade can easily hear the unasked question. He sticks his hands in his jacket pockets and nods.
“I’ll be there.” He glances back towards Sherlock’s door, feeling uncharacteristically bold. “Do you think we should – you know?” he tips his head towards the door and John looks stricken for a moment. “I don’t mean clear it out,” Lestrade adds hurriedly upon seeing John’s face. “I just meant… take a look, you know. Remind ourselves.”
John takes his time thinking about it, eyes downcast, lips slightly parted, one hand in his hair. Eventually he nods decisively, straightens up. “Let’s.”
The room is cold and smells of dust. Lestrade draws the curtains, allowing light into the room, and is surprised that there’s so little clutter. The periodic table hanging on the wall. The wardrobe, door slightly open to reveal hastily hung suit jackets and shirts. A single abandoned shoe in one corner, lying forlornly on its side. And the bed, neatly made and with an envelope on the pillow, with something written on it in Sherlock’s inelegant script. ‘John’.
Lestrade’s heart is in his mouth as he sees John move towards the bed, hand outstretched, trancelike. The envelope is not sealed, and John slides the paper out with shaking hands. The note is short.
My dearest John,
You will forgive me in time, I hope. Given your nature, I believe that you will.
Lestrade moves fast, but he is not fast enough to catch John before he falls. They end up on the floor, Lestrade almost cradling John’s torso, John’s hand clutching the letter so tight that the paper tears. Feeling suddenly detached, Lestrade gently pries the letter from John’s hand. He will want it later, when he is less angry. Floating somewhere beyond his mind are the echoes of emotion; disbelief that Sherlock knew what would happen, sorrow that he would do this to John, anger that he had received no letter, no apology, no thought. But for now it’s all just clinical blankness and a slight concern for John, who is crying. Lestrade does not know what to do – can’t remember what John did for him the last time he cried – and so only does his best, holding John so he feels safe, telling him it’s okay, letting him weep and shudder in his arms. It is hardest when John starts shouting.
“He knew? The bastard knew what was going to happen, he knew he would leave me like this but he bloody well went and did it anyway!” He struggles to sit up, pushes Lestrade away. Lestrade remains sitting on the floor for a moment before pushing himself to his feet, standing with his hands in his pockets. “Why aren’t you angry?” John is shouting at him, directing all his anger towards his friend. “Don’t you see what he’s done to me? To us?!” If Lestrade weren’t floating in his strange calm, he would shout back. Point out that he didn’t even get a letter. No clue. No request for forgiveness. No ‘live well’, two simple words that are so uncharacteristic of Sherlock to be almost emotional. Instead, he stands resolute against the barrage of John’s grief and anger. When John moves forward as if to hit him, Lestrade catches his arm, shakes his head. Tries to soothe his friend with meaningless words. John twists free and before Lestrade can react again, there’s a sharp pain on his face and he’s falling backwards, shocked more than hurt.
It is only at the sight of Lestrade on the floor, redness blooming across one cheek from the hit that John stills. He seems surprised at what he’s done, as though his fist acted of its own volition. All of a sudden the anger is drained from and he’s only apologetic, worried, kneeling at Lestrade’s side and helping him sit up.
“Greg, I’m so sorry I – Jesus, are you alright? I was just so angry, I didn’t mean to… fuck.” He’s running a thumb across Lestrade’s reddening cheek, checking nothing’s broken, his eyes dark with worry and lips slightly parted with concern. Lestrade has no idea where his next action comes from; he’s still floating in his bubble of calm numbness. It seems sensible this point, even logical (is this how Sherlock thought all the time, he wonders? Nothing to do with feeling, all to do with what makes sense right now?) to press his lips to John’s own. So he does. The moment their lips are connected stretches to minutes, maybe hours, Lestrade can’t tell. He’s only aware of the soft shape of John’s mouth under his own, the warmth of John’s hand as it remains on his cheek and the utter stillness that has taken over his body. It’s all about feeling. Even when John’s fist struck him, when his own friend physically lashed out at him, he felt nothing. There was silence in the empty void where his emotions used to be. But here in this moment, with their lips touching, there is a cacophony. An entire orchestra has started up, drowning out the silence in a chaotic discord of sound. Colour has blossomed from the blankness.
Opening his eyes, he moves back slightly so that his lips are no longer touching John’s. He’s waiting for more anger, for another hit, and at this point he’s willing to take it because, dear God, the blood is rushing through his body, and the lights are brighter and he can feel again. From that brief second of contact, his blood is singing with emotion; he is saturated with a sudden surge of feeling. It’s like coming in from the cold. The numbness has receded and its place everything is sharp, painful, unforgiving and wonderful. Sensation after so many months of numbness is bewildering, and maybe that’s why he hasn’t been punched in the face, again, because he sure as hell expects it. Maybe John is just as overwhelmed by emotion as he is, and that’s why they’re still mere inches apart, still breathing the same air, still staring into each other’s eyes. Lestrade wants to do it again, to feel all that again, feel more, but he forces himself to pull his head away. He stands rapidly, stumbles clumsily and hits the floor again, his wrists jarring with the impact through the heels of his palms. John has barely moved.
Suddenly, Lestrade feels claustrophobic, and he’s panicking. He stares at John, wide-eyed and backs away, turning as he reaches the bedroom door. He rushes out of the flat, out of the building, not caring if he’s left anything behind, not thinking about John, who he’s left sitting there on the carpet of Sherlock’s bedroom. What he’s done is ridiculous, thoughtless and probably wrong. Yet Lestrade cannot feel guilty about it – not while he feels like this. Not while he’s escaped the numbness that has lingered with him since Sherlock’s death. He’s been almost running without noticing; he forces himself to slow to a walk, to breathe properly. One hand runs through his hair, the other covers his mouth as he tries to figure out what the hell to do now. He feels alive, certainly, but he feels a million other things as well; all those little things that have been missing over the past months. It’s like he’s been wearing a mask, because behind all those frowns and tears over Sherlock’s death, the laughter he’s shared with John and the smiles that graced his face only half an hour ago when he was told he could come back to work, there’s only been the same empty lack of feeling. Now he doesn’t know whether to smile, or cry, or laugh, or shout. And apparently all it took to bring it all back was kissing John Watson.
He spends the rest of the day sat in his flat, giving in to all his tumultuous emotions. Tears compete with smiles as he grieves for the death of his ex-lover and entertains thoughts of a new one. For the first time, Lestrade really feels his grief, and it is raw and terrible and awful. But for the first time in a year he also means his smiles, feels the warmth of them. His fingers trace his lips repeatedly as he thinks of that momentary contact, and he imagines what it would feel like to share a real kiss with John. Each time he does, however, he catches himself, forces his mind to dwell on other thoughts; it was not a kiss shared in Baker Street, it was a kiss taken. Lestrade knows he won’t kiss the other man again – hell, he might not be able to even see John when he comes down from this strange, emotional high and really realises the implications of his actions. He tries to sleep but finds he can’t. His mind is too alive. So he paces and laughs and cries and smiles long into the night, trembling with feelings long suppressed.
It is not until he’s sat in his office – first day back on the job – smiling wanly at yet another well-wisher expressing their happiness at his healthful return that Lestrade abruptly realises the numbness has crept back in. He’s avoided John all week, and John appears to have avoided him. And somehow, without him noticing, that vibrant colour that had burst into his life when their lips touched has bled away, leaving only that blank canvas once again. Paperwork is nothing more than tedious. The smiles that tug his lips when he sees his old friends and colleagues are tiresome at best. His laughter seems hollow and empty, even when it is genuine. How did he ever live like this? At what point during the past year did he start believing that this was life? That he was healing? The day seems endlessly long and tiring. He must be this tired all the time, and has just ceased realising, he thinks. But now he has tasted life again, and the loss is sharp. He can only think of one thing that he can do to bring back the colour to this grey wasteland of a life. John. It was John who affected that transformation. But the thought of their last meeting, what he did and how he left John, confused on the floor, makes Lestrade wince. What can he say to John after that?
“Hi John, sorry about the fact that I just sort of kissed you and ran off, but you know what, it did good things for me, alright if we do it again? Yeah?”
Perhaps just being around John will be enough. If he forgets anything ever happened and goes back to being John’s friend, then surely colour will bleed in slowly – not as vibrant as before, maybe, but certainly better than this monochromatic existence. In reality, the decision has already been made. Lestrade has known all along that he will seek out John again. All this is simply justification. Lestrade will stay with John, because John paints the colours brighter.
Despite the certainty of his decision, Lestrade is frozen in the doorway when he reaches Baker Street, terrified of what he might do or say. He stands, staring up at the door, remembering the last time he’d been so scared to enter. After Sherlock. He is considering leaving and coming back another day when he hears someone clearing their throat behind him. He turns slowly, already knowing who he is going to see. John Watson, shopping bags in one hand, cane in the other. He has a slight smile on his face, head cocked as he observes Lestrade. Lestrade feels a blush rise as he considers how long John might have been watching him.
“Waiting for me, were you?” asks John, a note of amusement clear in his voice. At least it’s not anger.
“Well – yeah.” Lestrade offers up no excuses for his behaviour. Just smiles slightly ruefully, and shrugs a shoulder as if to say ‘what did you expect?’ John snorts and pushes past Lestrade to open the door. He does not invite the Inspector in with words, but Lestrade notices that he doesn’t move to close the door behind him, and follows him in. They are silent as they climb the stairs, and as they enter the flat John moves towards the kitchen to unpack his groceries. Lestrade hovers, unsure, and eventually opts for seating himself on the sofa. The flat looks the same as it did last week: clean and tidy, but lived in. The door to Sherlock’s room is firmly shut once again. Lestrade cannot keep his eyes from wandering towards it, remembering what he had done behind it. He wonders why that kiss – that chaste brushing of lips that lasted only moments – has such power over him.
When John returns to the living room, he’s holding a mug in each hand; Lestrade is surprised by the familiar routine. Her murmurs his thanks as John hands him the tea and then lowers himself into his armchair. There is a moment’s silence. Then John clears his throat, and Lestrade is suddenly terrified.
“So, last week…” John trails off into silence, and Lestrade stares resolutely at the pale surface of his milky tea. His plan of never mentioning it again and moving on has just been ripped efficiently in two. It’s not in John’s nature to let things lie, but Lestrade had hoped that just this once, John would go against his nature.
“Yeah, I, uh – well, sorry about that,” he manages to force out, sounding only slightly panicked. And maybe, he thinks optimistically, John will leave it at that and they’ll move on and talk about the football or Lestrade’s first day back on the job –
“Why? Why did you do it?”
Lestrade risks a glance up and is somewhat relieved to see that John’s eyes are firmly fixed on his own knotted hands, feeling just as awkward as Lestrade is.
“Well.” Lestrade doesn’t know what to say because that’s something he’s been asking himself. Repeatedly. He feels like throwing out ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ won’t be enough. Especially since, even at the time, a large part of him knew for sure it wasn’t a good idea. He swallows almost audibly. “Well, I’m not really sure to be honest,” he admits, carefully, then pauses, entirely unable to think of anything else to say. Judging from the expression on John’s face, that’s exactly what he was expecting.
He glances up again – right at the same time as John does, and suddenly their gazes have locked and Lestrade can’t look away. Lestrade can feel a vague rising panic which seems to cripple him, glue him to the sofa. He can’t read John’s expression – there doesn’t seem to be anger there, merely a shadow in his eyes that could be confusion, or at a stretch regret. Lestrade is desperately searching for something to do or to say when John speaks, breaking the steady silence.
“I was angry, after you left.” Lestrade can do nothing but swallow nervously and nod. “And then I was confused.” More silence. Deeper, heavier silence. “And eventually I realised –” John hesitates and Lestrade feels like he can barely survive the tension, urges John to just denounce his actions and move on “- I haven’t felt so alive in over a year.”
The breath that leaves Lestrade is almost explosive, and rings loud in his ears. For a moment, he’s unsure whether John actually spoke those words, or whether his brain is simply providing what he wants to hear. He sets down his mug carefully, wary of his trembling fingers. John is still staring at him, defiantly. He stands slowly.
“Don’t,” the word out of John’s mouth is a bullet, a hard and fast command, “Don’t run away again.” He rises to his feet as well. Even a good few inches shorter than Lestrade, tilting his neck slightly to look the taller man in the eye, John is intimidating.
“Wouldn’t think of it,” says Lestrade, slightly breathless.
“Good, because I really think -” John is half way through the sentence when Lestrade takes a firm, decisive step towards him, grabs him by that knitted monstrosity, that ridiculous, adorable, grandfather jumper, and brings their lips together forcefully. John’s lips are, for a second, tense and unyielding, but then he’s kissing Lestrade back, hands fisted in the front of his shirt, clinging on tightly. Lestrade is surprised that the rest of the world carries on as it is; he half expects to hear cars screeching to a halt, for the lights of Baker Street to flicker and die, because for him this moment is shattering. He had thought that colours had been brighter and music sweeter the last time he had kissed John, but that was nothing compared to this. The colours he’d once believed to be bright now seem drab in comparison, the beautiful music muted and dull.
He pulls John closer, revelling in the heat of the other man’s body, his comforting scent – tea and cheap shampoo and something that Lestrade can’t identify but is vaguely reminiscent of home – the feel of slightly chapped lips and the barest hint of stubble. Shaking slightly, Lestrade pulls back, only to rest his forehead on John’s, eyes still closed. He’s fighting back the urge to cry, embarrassed at the sudden flood of emotions washing over him. But then he opens his eyes and there’s pain on John’s face, and the look in his eyes is happiness mixed with sadness, and a cold hard grief tempered with the warmth of contentment. He is not alone. Lestrade does the only thing he can think of, and wraps his arms around John, bringing him close. They stand there for a long while, each lost in their own private symphony of sadness.
Lestrade loses himself in comfortable yet stunning normality when he leaves. He takes the Tube, revelling in the simple actions of other people; he smiles at the sight of a mother reading a story to her child, laughs quietly as the young boy claps his hands at the end and demands ‘again, Mummy, read it again!’, does his best not stare at a young couple exchanging brief kisses and murmured conversation, is almost moved to tears by the kindness of a stranger as he gives up his seat for an elderly woman clutching her bag. He thinks of John doing the same – throwing open the windows and marvelling at London, at life – and feels a warmth in the pit of his stomach. John had not offered his bed for the night and Lestrade had not asked; nevertheless each had known that the option was there. But now is not the right time for that; now is for living, for feeling, for the simplest act of being whose complexities have evaded the both of them for too long now. They know that they will have long years ahead of them for hand-holding and kissing and sex. For now they will each take what they need and give what they can.
From that moment on, Lestrade both struggles with his newfound vivacity and delights in it. He arrives at work every day smiling, glad to be doing what he loves. He laughs with his colleagues over lunch. He grows angry at the injustices he witnesses, is sad at those hardships and tragedies that are caused by them. And in amongst all this are the soft lips and warm body of John, keeping the colours bright. He feels the death of Sherlock more acutely than ever before, but at the same time feels content. His grief is steady and unwavering, but John Watson is a counterpoint that holds him upright and keeps him moving forwards. At first Lestrade runs to John only when he can feel his life slipping towards the monochrome once more, and a handful times John comes to him in the same way. Soon, though, it is not enough for Lestrade, and he starts spending more and more time at Baker Street; on weekdays he drops in after work for a drink, and on weekends he starts spending the night when a glance at the clock reveals it is nearly 3am and going home seems pointless. A collection of his belongings begin to amass. One day he drops in at Baker Street after work and simply does not leave. His world falls into a comfortable routine of work and John, and the months fly by. He believes they are both happy, despite the constant and plaguing memory of what they have lost.
When Lestrade arrives at work one gloomy Monday morning, Sergeant Donovan is waiting for him in his office, perched on the side of his desk. He smiles at her expectantly.
“I’ve had an odd report, sir,” she explains, standing as he moves towards his desk chair, slinging his dark coat over the back of it.
“Yeah?” he inquires vaguely. He has not yet had any coffee this morning, and his brain feels slow and sluggish. He doesn’t catch the hint of slight concern in his sergeant’s voice.
There is a pause. “About you,” Sally clarifies. Confusion settles over Lestrade’s features.
“You’ve had a weird report – about me? Well I’m obviously not dead, dying or destitute,” he points out. “Good God, Anderson’s not suing me for harassment is he? It was a joke!” Lestrade is not taking this seriously, and he is smiling. Sally shifts uncomfortably. Lestrade’s smile fades and he sighs. “Go on then, what’s wrong?”
“I found a memo on my desk this morning,” Sally begins, “about a call made by a man who was worried about his neighbour. Mail piling up, no answer from the door, no lights on – you know the kind of thing.”
Lestrade frowns, his caffeine deprived brain not able to make the connection. “That’s for uniforms,” he protests. “Not our division.”
Sally appears to be resisting the urge to roll her eyes at a superior officer. “Normally, Sir, yes,” she agrees, somewhat patronisingly, “But they ran the address to see who lived there. The owner came back one Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade.”
Lestrade blinks slowly at her. Of course. It’s been five or six months since he’s been to the flat that he can no longer call home. He’s kept paying the rent, but he hasn’t even swung by to collect his post. He needs to. For Sally’s benefit, he laughs, attempts to make light of the situation.
“Right, yes. Well. I’m clearly not lying dead on my bathroom floor, am I?” He gestures to himself. “So if that’s all?” Sally makes no move towards the door, and Lestrade sits back in his seat, a flash of irritation pulsing through his body, followed swiftly by a shiver of perverse pleasure at the presence of the emotion. His gladness towards the absence of numbness has yet to fade.
“Are you alright, Greg?” Lestrade clamps his lips together to keep from snapping at Sally. She is not asking as his Sergeant. She is asking as a friend.
“I’m fine,” he assures her, his tone only slightly clipped. He reaches towards his in tray, hoping – futilely – that Sally will leave it at that. She does not move, merely raises an eyebrow and places a hand on her hip. He lets out a rough breath of annoyance, and sits back again. “I don’t really live there anymore,” he informs her, grudgingly, “I’m – well, I live with someone else.” He’s desperately trying to stay the blush he can feel rising in his cheeks. He’s failing. It’s somewhat of a consolation to see that Sally looks embarrassed as well. She fails to hide her surprise at his admission; Lestrade tries not to feel insulted.
“Oh – well. I see. Congratulations then,” she stumbles over the words. “I hope she’s nice,” she adds generously. Lestrade tries not to wince and makes vague noises of assent. He doesn’t quite feel up to explaining that it’s John Watson that he’s currently living with. Assuming that Sally’s interrogation is finally over, he pulls a report towards him, eyes already wandering over the words. But she’s not done.
“Do we get to meet her?” she presses onwards. “You could bring her to the charity do on Thursday night.” Lestrade shifts uncomfortably.
“Yeah, maybe,” he manages. “Look, get me a cup of coffee would you?” he asks, hoping to forestall any more questions. He does not like to lie to his friends. Sally hesitates, but nods, leaving his office to make her way towards the small kitchenette. Lestrade sighs in relief and rubs his neck. He had forgotten that this might ever become an issue. He’s fairly sure nobody ever knew about his relationship with Sherlock. And after that, he was happily – well, mostly happily – married for 15 years, so it never came up. After he had signed the divorce papers, Lestrade hadn’t considered the possibility of finding someone else. It’s not that he’s ashamed of his sexuality, it’s just that – to him, at least – it seems fairly irrelevant most of the time. Besides, he thinks, when is one supposed to bring that sort of thing up? Hardly as soon as you meet someone – ‘hi, I’m Greg, I’m bisexual’ seems more than a little unnecessary. Then again, once you already know someone, it seems equally unusual to just turn around one day and inform them. He passes a hand over his eyes, wishing fervently he could go back to Baker Street and crawl into bed again. With John. Instead, he sets about completing his apparently unending supply of paper work.
By the middle of the week, the gossips have been at work, and it’s all Lestrade can do not to strangle Sally. He glares at anyone who tries to broach the subject of his ‘new lady-friend’, as Anderson mockingly referred to it, sends them scampering with tight, harsh words about keeping a professional attitude whilst at work. Yet this seems to only add fuel to the fire, and speculation is apparently rife amongst his co-workers. Lestrade catches the tail ends of ridiculous rumours. That he’s back with his wife. That he’s living with a much younger woman. That he’s living with Sally.
“You’d think they’d have better things to do with their time,” he grouses at John one evening as he enters the flat, sliding off his coat which is still dripping from the gentle haze of rain he’s walked through. John looks up from a newspaper, vaguely perplexed.
“Who?” Lestrade hangs up his coat, moving to stand behind John’s chair.
“I’ve been asked over ten times today who the new mysterious lady in my life is that I’ve moved in with,” responds Lestrade flatly, tangling his hands in John’s hair and dropping a kiss onto the sensitive spot behind his ear. John snorts in amusement.
“I hope you corrected them,” he replies.
Lestrade is momentarily too surprised to speak. “No, actually,” he admits, “Didn’t think you’d want that.” John shrugs a shoulder pulling at Lestrade’s sleeve to indicate he wants him in front of him for a proper kiss. Lestrade obliges, gladly.
“I don’t really care if people know,” John informs him, once Lestrade has eventually relinquished his mouth. There’s a flippant tone to John’s voice that causes a twinge of upset in Lestrade. He means exactly what he says. He doesn’t care either way. It doesn’t matter. Lestrade takes a deep breath, forces himself to remember that they are each broken, that this was never going to be a normal relationship. They are here to keep the colours bright. Regardless, he feels hurt.
“Good,” he manages to say, internally wincing at how forced his cheerfulness sounds. “In that case you can come to the charity drinks thing I have to go to tomorrow. Those things are always hideous; it will be nice to have some company. Might as well start some new rumours, too.” John agrees in good humour and Lestrade moves towards the bedroom. John frowns at him.
“Are you going to bed?” he inquires, concern lacing his words. “Bit early, isn’t it?” In truth, Lestrade simply needs some time alone, away from the truth that is steadily dawning on him: John means so much more to him than he ever will to John.
“I’ve got a headache,” he lies, and immediately regrets it. John tends to fuss when someone is ill. “I’ve taken some ibuprofen, doctor,” he teases, to fend off John’s imminent worry. “I’m just going to lie down for a while. I’m fine, I promise.” He leaves the room before John has time to object. In the bedroom, he slips off his shoes and falls back onto the bed, not bothering to undress. His eyes are burning and there’s a lump in his throat; he’s determined not to cry. “Idiot,” he mumbles at himself, thickly. He came to John because they had been going through the same thing. He’d stayed because he kept the blank numbness at bay. Somewhere along the line, Lestrade has fallen in love with him. He’s terrified of that thought – especially since he knows that John does not love him, that this is the sort of selfish convenience it originally was for Lestrade as well. He should leave now. He should walk away. He should save himself. He knows he will not. He shuts his eyes, but cannot stop the tears.
Lestrade wonders if there is something wrong with him as he waits impatiently for Thursday to pass so that he can see John again. What he is doing is so inherently masochistic that he can’t help but feel that a psychiatrist would have a field day. But all this pain is just a part of the bright canvas of emotion that John Watson unlocks for him; to walk away would be to strip himself not only of the dark, angry colours of pain and sadness and heartbreak, but also of the bright, bold colours of happiness and love and fulfilment. He cannot go back to that monochrome world he inhabited numbly. Not now. And so he pushes all thoughts of his injuries to the back of his mind, and concentrates on the fact that it is mere hours until he sees John – and no doubt brings the department to its knees with gossip.
“So are you bringing anyone this evening?” Sally inquires during lunch, slightly too casually. Lestrade grins lopsidedly at her.
“Subtle, aren’t you, Donovan?” A blush rises on Sally’s cheeks and she starts to apologise. Lestrade cuts her off. “But yes, for your information, I am.” Sally’s eyebrows shoot up and she can barely restrain her smile of excitement.
“Anyone special?” She asks.
“Yes,” he confirms, and then ducks into his office, leaving Sally to stare and wonder. He shouldn’t really be playing these games, but he’s got to have some fun.
When evening arrives, Lestrade heads down to loiter near the security barriers to wait for John. A set of offices has been cleared out for the charity event – an auction of promises, Lestrade thinks he remembers reading somewhere – and someone has procured boxloads of alcohol from God-knows-where. The evening is set to be an embarrassing, drunken mess, and Lestrade’s only going out of some twisted sense of duty, and doesn’t plan to stay for long. Long enough to have a drink with John and get through the inevitable mixed reaction of his co-workers. Then he’s going to take John straight home, to Baker Street, and it’s going to be just the two of them, each with a bit of alcohol in their system, each needing human contact after a long day. Warm skin and rough lips and shared breath; Lestrade can think of no better way to spend an evening.
Sally and Anderson are deep in conversation when Lestrade returns, John in tow, and he wonders if they’re running books on who his new love interest is. He should have put money down himself, cleaned up. He notices Sally’s eyes dart towards him as soon as he enters, and he keeps firm eye contact with her as he holds the door for John. She raises an eyebrow at the sight of John and shakes her head exasperatedly at her boss, obviously thinking that he’s been pulling her leg. He smiles and turns away towards John.
“Drink?” he asks, tilting his head towards a table of what he’s hoping is legally acquired alcohol but is determinedly not thinking too hard about, especially since he remembers something about a confiscation from some underage kids only a few days back. Lestrade places a hand on the small of John’s back and guides him towards the table. He allows his hand to linger. He’s aware that he’s being ridiculous and possessive, but God damn it, he’s proud of this relationship, even if John isn’t. He’s got something to prove – though whether to himself, or the world, or just John, he can’t tell.
“I thought you were bringing someone special.” Sally’s tone is disapproving. Lestrade turns, John along with him.
“I have,” he says, smiling, nodding towards John and taking a mouthful of barely-cold beer from a bottle. He can see from John’s face that he is amused by the tableau that’s about to unfold. Sally tilts her head, and lets out an exasperated breath, shakes her head, and walks away. Lestrade smiles ruefully at John.
“She obviously doesn’t appreciate you like I do,” he teases. John chuckles.
“Apparently not.” Lestrade shrugs a shoulder, hooks an arm around John’s waist and pulls him close.
“Never mind,” he smirks, brushing a soft kiss across John’s lips. “Less competition.” They stay in a corner near the drinks table, practically oblivious to everyone else in the room. Lestrade forgets about his friends and colleagues; his entire focus is on John, on his smiles and laughter and his expressive hands and straight back. It’s almost a surprise when Sally at last approaches again, looking somewhat sheepish.
“I just wanted to – I mean. Well, I thought you were joking.” John laughs to see her tripping over her words, and Lestrade joins in.
“I take it no one won the bet,” Lestrade grins, “If you need someone to give it to, I consider myself a worthy charity.”
Sally laughs, self-consciously. “No can do,” she admits. “Anderson placed a bet on you two on the off chance. Got good odds.” There’s silence for a moment and then Lestrade is laughing – a proper laugh that has his ribs aching and tears gathering in his eyes. He scans the crowd, and eventually spots Anderson, looking more smug and triumphant than usual.
“Good for him,” he says, generously. “But tell him he can buy me a pint with the proceeds sometime.”
They leave sometime after that, before the bidding starts on the promises. Lestrade has done his duty in turning up and now – warmed by several drinks – he has better things to be doing of an evening. They a take a taxi back to Baker Street – stupidly expensive, but worth it in Lestrade’s mind, since he knows John hates using the Tube because of his leg – and it’s not too long before they’re on the sofa, snuggled under a blanket like an old married couple.
John is trying to watch a documentary on Hitler’s U-boats, but Lestrade has other ideas. He pulls John close and places gentle kisses on his neck, on that spot just behind John’s ear that Lestrade knows drives him crazy. He keeps up a constant whisper in John’s ear that must make it impossible to pay attention to anything that is happening on the TV. At first he tells him how happy he makes him, how good he looks in that shirt, but then his voice grows deeper, rougher as he tells John exactly what he’s going to do to that shirt, and shortly thereafter to him. It takes John eight minutes and forty-three seconds to give up and allow Lestrade to do all the things he promised. Not that Lestrade was timing. Not at all.
Lestrade is the focus of a great deal of not-so-subtle looks and gossip at work the next day, but he can’t bring himself to care. Sally seems to be the only one who is treating him exactly as she always does.
“Someone had a good night,” she comments offhandedly as Lestrade hums while he pours himself a cup of dark liquid that the Met claims is coffee.
“You have no idea,” he grins. Sally holds up her hands.
“Very much do not want to know,” she warns him. “Thinking about your boss having sex is like seeing your dentist in Tesco. Very, very weird and distinctly unnerving.” Lestrade laughs, and returns to his desk. It is almost easy to pretend that he is not getting his heart broken daily. Because the colours have never seemed more bright or more beautiful.
Christmas comes and goes with shyly given gifts and an awkward phone call from Lestrade’s parents that results in John and Lestrade travelling to Wandsworth for a Christmas visit, because Lestrade never could say no to his mother. They sit and have tea in the small house, which has been festooned with tinsel, and his Dad tells stories about his time as a policeman, and his mother fusses over him and John even more so. When they leave, Lestrade takes to John to where he grew up, and they stand in front of the poorly kept block of flats as Lestrade tells him about being the small kid with a habit of getting into trouble with the older boys, and how his parents had eventually allowed him to help them to buy a house rather than stay here but had obstinately refused to move from Wandsorth.
In the following months, they fall into a comforting routine; Lestrade works as usual whilst John decides to get a job again rather than sitting in the house all day. After a few interviews he snags himself a job in a small practice and seems to settle in nicely. They spend the evenings together, occasionally in the company of others, but mostly alone, and on weekends they try to share their interests; Lestrade takes John to football matches, which he quite enjoys, and John takes Lestrade to gardens and museums which he doesn’t enjoy as much as he could, but which he pretends to like immensely. Spring arrives and becomes summer. They trundle onwards, mostly happy and rarely apart.
On this early summer’s morning, Lestrade wakes grudgingly, trying desperately to retain the last vestiges of sleep, even as they evaporate in the bright sunlight. John is, as ever, already awake, but seemingly content in remaining in the warmth of the bed with Lestrade’s arm thrown possessively across his naked torso. He is staring into the distance, broodingly, but seems to come to as Lestrade shifts.
“Morning.” Lestrade’s reply is incoherent, but somehow manages to be affectionate. He nuzzles into John’s neck, deeply inhales his scent. Smiles contentedly and hums slightly to himself. Something is niggling at him, in the back of his mind, but he pushes it to one side. At this moment, holding John, he wants to think of nothing else. But a cold, heavy feeling of dread is settling over him, and it is mere moments before he realises what today is. He tenses, breathes in sharply. John already knows, judging by his reaction. He has remembered. He strokes Lestrade’s forehead, murmurs assurances to him. Lestrade sits up, rubs his eyes roughly with the heels of his palms.
“Two years,” he sighs. John simply nods, sits as well. They hold each other. Their usually cheerful morning routine is dampened. They prepare breakfast in silence, and neither manages to finish their food. The coffee Lestrade drinks makes him feel sick. He doesn’t finish that, either. Wordlessly, they dress and then head towards the door. There is no question as to where they’re going. John wants to stop and buy flowers on the way.
“Would Sherlock have wanted flowers, really?” asks Lestrade. John purses his lips angrily and tells him that it doesn’t matter if Sherlock wants them. He wants to give them. Lestrade stays silent and watches John buy a simple bouquet. He does not purchase any. When they arrive at the graveyard, they are surprised to see Mycroft leaving. John nods at him, distantly, and after a slight hesitation Mycroft approaches, inquires after John. John’s replies are clipped and clinical. Lestrade knows that John has not forgiven Mycroft for the role he apparently played in Sherlock’s death. He only knows what John has told him, which is not everything.
“Take care of yourselves,” Mycroft says as he leaves, which seems oddly personal for him. John does not answer and immediately begins to move towards Sherlock’s grave. Lestrade smiles tiredly.
“You too,” he replies and follows John.
Here, in the presence of Sherlock, John seems twitchy and almost uncomfortable. He lays his flowers and takes a step a back, silent. When Lestrade goes to rest a comforting hand on his shoulder, John draws away imperceptibly, almost as if he is unaware of doing it. Lestrade drops his arm to his side, leaves John alone. He swallows thickly, fights tears again. Here, John thinks of Sherlock. Here, Lestrade cannot pretend that John loves him back.
“I’m going to take a walk,” he informs John. “Give you some time alone. I’ll be back.” He wanders off, between the light marble headstones and green grass – ostensibly to give John time to say what he needs to say so Sherlock, but in reality to escape for himself. In this place, he sees his relationship with John for what it really is, and it hurts him deeply. He finds a small, twisted tree and sits with his back against it, fingers pulling idly at the grass around him. Figuring that here is as good a place as any, Lestrade talks to Sherlock.
“I still miss you,” he admits. “But every day gets easier, I think. Police work is harder. But somehow less stressful.” He smiles, lets his head fall back against the trunk and closes his eyes. “John and I are together now. God, I can just imagine what you’d have to say about that. Then again, the situation would never arise, would it? I’m here to fill a hole in John’s life, one that never existed when you were around. And John – well I suppose he’s here to fill a hole in my life too. The one that you left. It was there after our train-wreck of a relationship ended, but it was only really bad once you -” Lestrade swallows. Forces himself to say it. “- once you died.” He sits in silence for a while. He feels lighter, being able to talk about it. Smiles at the thought that he’s talking to Sherlock about his life and problems, of all people.
“I’ve fallen in love with him.” He has never said the words out loud before, and they taste bittersweet on his lips. “I have fallen in love with John Watson. I love you.” He repeats the words, feels their weight. Imagines what they would sound like coming from John. Allows himself a moment in weakness in which he imagines John feels exactly the same way about him. Then he laughs bitterly. “Maybe you had it right,” he tells the ghost of an emotionless man. “The world would be simpler without all these emotions. In fact, it was. I tried it. But as simple as everything was, it was grey and quiet and never-changing and God, I just couldn’t do it. And then I kissed John and it was all different, and then I fell in love with him and now everything’s so bright that it hurts –”
He is interrupted by a startled noise. His head snaps up and John Watson is standing in front of him, frozen in his approach. His mouth is slightly open, his eyes fixed on Lestrade. There should be some small feeling of panic. Lestrade should try and explain away his words, he should tell John to forget them, tell him that they’re not important – but he’s tired, so tired. So he smiles slightly, sadly and nods once. John doesn’t know what to say.
“You’re – you’re in love with me?” His voice is disbelieving. Hollow.
“Yes,” Lestrade admits easily. “Sorry,” he adds. He feels that apologising for loving someone is inherently wrong, but the situation seems to demand it. John stays silent another long minute, then makes his way to the tree and props himself up next to Lestrade. They sit, silently.
“You know I don’t -” Lestrade can’t bear to hear John say it out loud. Just knowing enough hurts.
“Yes,” he interrupts before the words can hit him hard, “I know.” John pushes on, keeps trying to explain.
“Greg, it’s not that you don’t mean anything to me I just – I mean, after Sherlock died I couldn’t…” John trails off, seemingly realising that trying to explain is pointless. “How long?” he asks eventually. Lestrade shrugs a shoulder.
“Who knows? Maybe from the beginning, a bit.” Another silence. And then come the words that Lestrade has been fearing the most.
“Maybe we shouldn’t –” Lestrade’s face turns to John and for perhaps the first time, he becomes genuinely angry with him. “Don’t.” His voice isn’t even raised. It’s deadly calm and steady as steel. “Don’t you tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. I’m a grown man. I make my own decisions.”
John seems taken aback. “But it can only end badly,” he points out, and his voice is gaining volume, ringing out among the peaceful dead. “I don’t love you Greg! And I’m sorry, but I never can!”
Lestrade feels as though a bullet has hit him straight between the shoulder blades. White hot pain sears through his body, spreads, throbs, overwhelms him. He stares at John. Then, as suddenly as the anger and pain and breathlessness comes, it drains away, leaving only a familiar, dull ache.
“I know,” he tells him. He takes John’s hand, stares at it. Turns it over, examines the palm, runs his fingers along the well-worn creases. He wonders if lives can really be written in skin. “I know.” He interlaces their fingers, holds John’s hand tight. As though holding their palms together will force their lives to remain intertwined. “I’m not asking you to.” Another silence. Not fraught with tension, or pain, or confusion like the ones before it, but empty. Expectant. Lestrade looks into John’s eyes, tries to show him that he’s accepted this. He knows what he’s doing to himself and needs it anyway.
Don’t pull your hand away, he’s thinking, pleading, commanding in his mind. I don’t need much, John. I just need this. Need you. Please don’t pull your hand away. He can’t vocalise the words because his throat feels heavy and constricted, and God help him he is not going to cry. Not in front of John. John meets his eyes and then looks away, towards their intertwined fingers. Then he looks back at Lestrade, and smiles sadly, and squeezes his hand once. He does not pull his hand away.
After that, everything changes. The routine is the same – they eat meals and go to work and come home and sleep together – but something irreplaceable has been lost. John is wary, prone to pulling away from the smaller signs of affection he had previously accepted. Unable to say the words he wants to, Lestrade pours love into everything he does. He tries to show John how much he means to him without speaking out loud. He grows paranoid, wakes in the middle of the night sometimes, convinced that John has got up and left. One pushes. The other pulls. They drift. Somewhere, the colours start to fade.
One morning Lestrade wakes and everything is grey. Printed in black lines on thin, shabby white paper, his world has returned to the dull, colourless existence of the numb grief. Grief for all he’s lost. Grief for the little that he’s gained. He pulls himself from bed, eats, drinks coffee. On the Tube, his eyes do not wander. Faceless people gather close around him and he sways with the movement of the train, unheeding. His smiles for Sally are bland and rare. His work is acceptable, nothing more. In the evening he returns home before John, takes a beer from the fridge. He sits on the sofa, staring at the blank television screen, waiting. The realisation is abrupt when it arrives, but unimpressive. He sets down his bottle. He gets his coat, gathers some things. He leaves.
That night, he does not sleep, but lies curled on his side, staring out of his open curtains at the dark night sky, speckled almost imperceptibly with stars. The flat is dark and musty, covered in dust and forlorn from long months of emptiness. The silence weighs heavily on him. He has not been alone in so long. In the morning, he wakes late to the sounds of his mobile ringing. He stumbles from his bed, finds it cast carelessly on the floor of the hall. Sally is calling. He glances at the clock, then turns away from the phone. The Metropolitan Police can function without him for a while. He reaches into his coat pocket, pulls out his badge. Stares at the dull silver and black leather, runs a finger over his childhood dream. Then, averting his eyes, he allows it to fall to the floor. Police work has always been his life, his grounding. He’s always prided himself on being one of the good guys. Right now, it seems pointless. He finds it hard to care what people are doing to each other. Because how can it compare to what he’s done to himself?
It is three days before he shows up at work again. People have been calling – Sally first, then others. After a while, John. He has ignored them all. A uniformed officer knocked on his door once, but Lestrade did not answer. The fact that people will worry does not even cross his mind. When he arrives, Sally glances at him and then performs a double-take that makes Lestrade smile slightly.
“Sir!” she exclaims, and heads turn, people stand, phone calls are made. Then Sally marches towards him and takes him by the shoulders, stares deep into his eyes as if checking he is still all there. “Are you alright?” she demands, forcefully. Lestrade nods. “Good,” she says, and slaps him sharply across the face. He staggers backwards. A hush falls.
“What the hell?” Lestrade is not angry. He’s lost the colours and anger is as dull and lifeless as everything else. He is mainly confused. Sally does not apologise.
“I could say the same to you,” she retorts. “Where the hell have you been? We’ve been looking for you! Missing persons have got a board set up and everything!” Lestrade stares dully at her, hand still resting on his glowing cheek.
“I… needed some time away,” he replies. Sally laughs, shrilly.
“Next time, tell someone!” Lestrade’s weariness obviously shows on his face, as Sally softens, and guides him towards his office. “Someone get John here,” she announces to the room as she does so. Lestrade shakes his head violently.
“No!” He’s embarrassed by how quickly and sharply the word comes out. “No, don’t. It’s fine.” Sally’s brow wrinkles with concern.
“He’s been beside himself,” she protests. Lestrade pauses. Has he really? He thinks of the way John looks at him. Not with love – never with love – but certainly with warmth and affection. With some measure of care.
“I’ll phone him,” Lestrade promises. Sally wisely lets the matter drop, and accompanies him to his office. He sinks into his chair, looks at his desk with dismay. Everything is in a slightly different place – papers in the wrong order, stationary moved around – and it annoys him to think of someone else going through his things so freely. He starts to tidy them up, consciously avoiding Sally’s gaze.
“Sir,” she prompts. Lestrade does not respond, merely starts re-arranging the pencils in his stationery holder. “Greg.” When she uses his name, he stills. She is pleading with him, worry in her voice, begging him to tell her what’s wrong and what she can do. He meets her gaze.
“Everything fell apart,” he says, flatly. That is all the explanation he will give.
He spends the morning talking himself out of trouble and flinching from concern in equal parts, so that by lunch time he still has not done any work. He sits at his desk with a shop-bought sandwich, eyeing his mobile. Sergeant Donovan has assured him, in no uncertain terms, that if he doesn’t phone John, she will. After a short consideration, he reaches for the phone, and finds the number for Baker Street in his contacts. The phone rings only twice before it’s answered.
“Sally?” John’s voice is strained. Lestrade cannot speak for a second, suddenly ashamed of what he has done.
“It’s me.” It’s a stupid thing to say. He should offer to explain, should reassure John that he’s fine, but those two words seem to be all he has. “It’s me,” he repeats.
“Greg? Jesus, what happened? Where were you? Are you okay? I just came home from work and you’d gone and I didn’t know what to do, all your stuff was still here and -”
“I’m fine,” Lestrade says, halting the onslaught of questions. There’s a pause.
“That’s all you have to say? ‘I’m fine’? What happened to you?” There should be anger behind those words, but John’s tone falls flat, much as Lestrade’s has.
“Everything fell apart,” he repeats. “Everything fell apart and as I was sitting there, drinking a beer and waiting for you to come home I realised that everything was dull and grey and numb again. And I just couldn’t stay.” There’s a silence on the other end of the line, save for the sound of John’s unsteady breathing. Lestrade prays that John will not shout. He is in luck.
“Yeah,” John agrees eventually. “Yeah, everything fell apart. I’m glad you’re okay, Greg. Just… Come back to Baker Street tonight, yeah? We can talk.” Lestrade agrees and the line goes dead. He eats his sandwich and automatically, mechanically, goes about his day.
When he lets himself into Baker Street that evening, John is waiting for him on the sofa, back straight and one fist clenched. He seems to release a breath upon seeing Lestrade, as though he had not quite believed that he was safe until this moment he stands in front of him. They stare at each other.
“Tea?” The forced normality of the request disgusts Lestrade. Nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same. He shakes his head, does not sit down.
“I’ll probably just get my things and go,” he informs John, moving towards the bedroom. At this, John stands up, brows drawn together and steel in his eyes.
“You will do no such thing.” His voice is low and calm, but dangerous, and it freezes Lestrade to the spot. A sudden surge of anger arcs through him, a bright streak of fiery red amongst the shades of grey.
“I’ll do what I damn well please,” he retorts. “You have no right to make decisions for me.” John’s eyebrows shoot up.
“And you have no right to just disappear for days without telling me!” he cries. “Did you think what would happen to me? Or were you too wrapped up in yourself to even think about the people who care about you?” Lestrade takes a step closer to John, temper rising further.
“Oh, I’m the selfish one?” He scoffs. “I’m not the one who was in a relationship purely to fill the hole that someone else left. Did you never consider me in that equation?”
“Don’t pretend you’re so high-and-mighty, you had exactly the same reasons as I did at first!” It’s true, but Lestrade’s fists are clenching and unclenching. He feels cheated by John, somehow.
“I never asked you to love me!” He’s shouting now, at full volume, his anger burning hard and hot. “I never asked you for that. But then you got scared, and you pulled away from me, and what else could I have done?” Instead of answering, John grabs Lestrade’s coat, jerks him forward and pulls their lips together violently. This kiss is like nothing they have shared before; each battles for dominance, pours their animosity into it, and although Lestrade will not think of it until later, when they both lie naked in bed, sated and spent, it is like being with Sherlock all over again; nails and teeth and tension.
And so the colours come back, bright but marred with dark, ugly bruises of anger and frustration. Tension builds and words fly; the evenings at Baker Street are no longer peaceful, but raucous and loud. Lestrade wonders occasionally what Mrs Hudson must think, and when he glimpses her on his way to work one day he sees her watching him, sad and a not a little frightened. If he is any different at work, Sally does not mention it. There are days where, from behind the safety and sanity of his desk, he looks at his life and vows to stop doing these things to himself. But then he thinks of the grey numbness, shivers, and discards his many promises.
Lestrade visits his parents again as winter approaches, this time alone. He is concerned to see that his Mother looks thin, gaunt, and although she waves it off as a bad case of the ‘flu, he makes her an appointment at the doctor’s. She asks about the nice man who accompanied him last Christmas. Lestrade lies, tells her that he no longer lives with John. She fusses over him. Lestrade closes his eyes, and pretends he is a child again. Later, he wanders the streets, and finds himself where he had not long ago stood with John, staring up at the building of his childhood. He sees a young boy playing alone, feels a pang of sympathy. He considers the idea of approaching the boy, talking to him, but dismisses it out of hand. He has nothing to say. Instead he enters a small newsagent’s and buys a packet of cigarettes and a cheap lighter and – though he hasn’t smoked for years – sits on the kerb and lights one up. The smoke hangs around his head, weighed down with unhappy associations from his childhood and the ever-present melancholy that now seems to mark his life. Eventually he returns home to a scolding from his mother, who can smell cigarette smoke from a mile away. He makes her promise to phone him after her doctor’s appointment, and leaves his parents with an embrace each and a sad smile.
Christmas this year is barely acknowledged by either of them, aside from the compulsory work parties, and John goes so far as to volunteer at work on Christmas day. So Lestrade spends the day alone, watching re-runs on the television and trying to pretend that it is any day but Christmas. He knows he will complain about it to John when he eventually returns. They will eat dinner in sullen silence. They will argue. They will eventually sleep, and in the morning they will have the same tired arguments in new and imaginative ways, each pushing the other hard enough to inspire the real and genuine anger that they now appear to thrive on. For now, he concentrates on Top Gear and avoids calling his parents. They will want him to come over and visit, but the thought of their gaily decorated house and festive foods depresses him. He stays alone.
As the months crawl on, constant anger becomes tiring, and Lestrade is sure he looks at least ten years older than he should. He starts to find it hard to be angry at John, and once more craves the peaceful affection that had once characterised their relationship. He cooks dinner for John, so that when he arrives home from work, slightly stressed as per usual, there is hot food and a beer waiting. It seems to throw John off, and in answer to his questioning look Lestrade can only give a wry smile and a shrug of his shoulder. They sit down to eat together and it is suddenly as though they barely know each other; the meal is awkward and the conversation feels forced. John clears the plates as soon as they are both finished, itching for an excuse to escape the situation. But when he returns to the living room, as eventually he must, Lestrade pulls him down onto the sofa and they sit close together like they used to, holding hands. Lestrade tries to pretend that this is a year ago, and presses his lips to that recently-neglected spot behind John’s ear. He tries again to pour love into his actions rather than aggression, to recall happier times not through words but through deeds. That night their love-making is soft and slow, a reminder of why they are here in the first place. Lestrade sleeps more soundly than he has in a long time. When he wakes, John smiles shyly at him. Their rhythm shifts again. The colours change, become warmer and more muted. Neither needs the sharp vitality of life anymore. Simply to feel something is sufficient. Contentment rather than happiness. Melancholy rather than sadness. Smiles instead of laughter. These things seem enough, here and now. The anger still rises sporadically, unexpectedly; arguments are less frequent but no less terrifying in their intensity.
Although the pace of life has slowed dramatically, the months pass by quickly, and soon enough they each find themselves waking again in silence, dressing in silence, heading out to the grave yard. John does not buy flowers. This time, Mycroft is nowhere to be seen; John and Lestrade could be the only people in the world. They stand together in front of Sherlock’s headstone, but there seems nothing left say. Lestrade’s hand seeks out John. John accepts it, laces his fingers loosely in the other man’s. Lestrade tries to quash the smug feeling of victory that rises in the pit of his stomach.
“We miss you,” murmurs Lestrade. John nods an agreement.
“Yes. We miss you.” There are no more words. They leave soon after, hands still clasped in silent comfort. Today is not a day for arguments; each man stay mostly wrapped up in himself, in thoughts of the past and silent questions about the future. How long will they stay like this, sharing friendship and romance and anger in equal parts? For how many years will they visit Sherlock’s grave together before they start going alone, or cease altogether? For Lestrade, these question are well-worn but mostly ignored; like a daughter with a mother’s wedding dress, he takes them out from time to time, holds them, wonders what it would be like to try them on, but in the end, never does. He simply takes what comes – smiles or kisses or shouts – and gives them back again when needed. It is as though he and John borrow life from each other, constantly trade in feelings and emotion.
Lestrade returns to Baker Street late from work after a particularly harrowing day in the stifling heat of July, looking forward to seeing John as soon as he gets in the door; Wednesdays are John’s days off and as a rule they tend to be argument free. At the foot of the stairs, he hears the sound of something smashing, and as he looks up he notices the door to the flat is ajar. Acid fear pools in his stomach. Something is not right. His heart is suddenly in his mouth, his breathing picks up at the thought that John is in danger. He flies up the stairs and – against all instinct and training – barges straight through the door with no regard for his own safety, intending to rush to John’s side. He is stilled by the tableau that presents itself.
John stands in the doorway to the kitchen. At his feet lies the broken remains of an orange mug, tea soaking into the floor around his feet. In front of him stands –
Lestrade cannot process the scene. This tall man in a dark coat, this man with dark, curly hair, this man with the striking cheekbones and familiar eyes, this man cannot be Sherlock. It’s impossible. Entirely impossible. And yet there he stands, expression open, hands raised slightly as though in anticipation of being attacked. Lestrade has not yet ruled that out as a possibility. Silence reigns. Then John takes a step towards the figure, falters.
“Sherlock.” The name that slips from his lips is rusty from lack of use, sounds odd tripping over his tongue. The figure nods. Lestrade can only watch, dumbly, as John steps closer again, splays a hand across the figure’s chest, checks he is not a mere illusion. He watches John let out a sob, then pull the figure close, wrap his arms around him. The tall man looks surprised, and after a moment of uncertainty, merely touches John briefly, awkwardly on the back.
“John.” The name that the figure murmurs is warm, worn smooth from use as though it has been spoken it every day. Lestrade cannot comprehend what is happening. He feels as though he is watching from a great distance, or from behind glass. He remembers, unbidden, seeing Sherlock not long after he’d jumped, remembers the terrifying, crippling fear that he’d gone mad. He wonders if it’s happened now – if John and he have inhabited their small, dark world of mourning for so long that they’ve entered into some sort of shared hallucination. He looks at John’s face. He is crying and laughing at once, holding onto Sherlock with a grip of steel to stop him leaving again. Lestrade turns. Descends the stairs in a sort of haze, fingers skimming the banister. He steps outside, looks around him, utterly bewildered. He starts to walk. He does not know where he is going. Sherlock. Sherlock is alive.
The words resound in his head, but mean nothing. They clatter, hollow, on the sharp planes of confusion in his mind. He walks a well-known route, barely registers where he’s going. He stumbles along the path like a man who has woken up for the first time in years. At one point he trips, falls. A man hurries up to help him, but he merely rights himself and wanders on, heedless of the dust on his trousers and scrapes on his hands. After seconds, or minutes, or hours, or maybe even a lifetime, he finds himself standing in front of a dark marble headstone, with the name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ engraved in a splash of bright gold. He stares at the deceitful stone, then sits with his back against it.
Sherlock is alive.
This one huge truth has torn through him like an earthquake, and now – like tiny aftershocks – come others. He has kissed John for the last time without realising it. He has held him and held his hand for the last time. He has shared his heart and his bed with him for the last time. Because what John is – first and foremost – is Sherlock’s. If he had known, he thinks, he would have made that last kiss so painfully tender, would have held John so close and so carefully. He would have whispered those words that were forbidden to him. Now he knows he has missed that opportunity; he will never have the chance again. Sherlock is alive. He should be happy. He has never felt further from it. He has never felt more alone. He does not feel ashamed about his tears.
“Lestrade.” He does not know how long he has been sitting here. His tears have dried up long ago, and he has been still, staring at nothing, adrift and unsure what the hell to do. He recognises the voice, knows who it is that is standing in front of him. But still, he is scared to raise his head. After a deep breath, he does. Sherlock stands, hands in pockets, collar turned up, staring down at the Detective Inspector.
“Sherlock.” Lestrade’s voice is raw, struggles to form the now-unfamiliar name. “Long time no see.” One side of Sherlock’s mouth quirks slightly upwards.
“Yes, well. It was a necessity. An explanation is probably warranted.” Lestrade waves a hand as though pushing Sherlock’s words away.
“Don’t care,” he says. He pushes himself to his feet. “You’re a bastard, you know that?” He asks, conversationally. Sherlock does not flinch at the insult.
“I have been reliably informed, yes.” Lestrade looks closer, see redness blooming across one cheek. The thought of John punching Sherlock cheers him up slightly. Sherlock notices where his gaze is resting, raises his fingers to touch his cheekbone. “John was… well, he could have been nicer.” Lestrade is laughing before he realises.
“Nicer? Good God, Sherlock, do you know what you’ve done to us the past three years? What we’ve been through?” Lestrade halts himself before he tells Sherlock, reveals every detail of his suffering up to the present moment. “From what I can see, he was incredibly restrained.” Sherlock takes half a step back, apparently anticipating another punch from Lestrade. He can’t say he’s not tempted, but he has no energy left for those dramatics anymore. Not after the last three years. There is a silence, and then Sherlock speaks some words that surprise Lestrade greatly.
“I’m sorry.” He sounds like he means it, as well, as much as Sherlock can mean an apology. A small repayment for three years of suffering, for many years more, but Lestrade will take what he can get. He nods his acknowledgement.
“Fine. You’re sorry. Now piss off. I need… I need some time.” Sherlock hesitates, looks as though he’s going to say something more, but apparently the last three years have taught him something, wherever he’s been, because then he turns and leaves. Lestrade sinks back down. He has imagined speaking to Sherlock again a million times, toyed with the idea of him returning somehow. In his mind, he was always happy, relieved. He had never considered he might be more heartbroken than before. That he might forget all question of why and how, and send the man away so he could mourn. It seems wrong. Backwards.
The details are unimportant to him. Sherlock might have made a deal with the devil for all he cares. But he is undeniably here. He shuts his eyes. Perhaps the colours of life will return to normal, but for now they are they are the dull, muted colours of heartbreak. He thinks about how many times he has wished for Sherlock back, imagining that it would fix things. But in his periphery, the grey is creeping back. In gaining the life of a friend, Lestrade has lost both a love and a lover. He has lost everything he has fought so hard to keep. For the past three years, John Watson has kept Lestrade alive, and Lestrade has slowly but surely fallen in love with a man who can never love him back. He will survive. He’s done it before. He’ll go on trying to make the world a better place in some way, with or without the help of the world’s only consulting detective. Even if the colours fade and the music stops entirely, Lestrade will soldier onwards. He will think of how happy John is, and of the good that Sherlock is doing. He will convince himself that as long as John is content, he is content. But he knows that there will remain one corner of himself – a selfish corner – that will look on in despair, take in the greyness of his life and remember that, for a while, the world had been a masterpiece.
Lestrade stands, slips a hand into his pocket, pulls out his badge. Grey and silver on black. Hard, dull colours. The colours of truth, dressed with no lies, no self-deceit, no falsehoods. These colours are all he has left. But these colours can be his strength, his anchor. He still has a job to do. He will always have a job to do. Clutching his badge tightly, allowing the leather to dig into his skin, he stands, turning to look one last time at the headstone – the green grass and gold lettering and dark stone. Then he turns his back and walks away, and the colours fade to grey behind him.